Heddon Valley butterfly walk

Heddon Valley, North Devon

Route details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Panoramic view along the South West Coast Path to Combe Martin Bay © Jacqueline Le Sueur

Panoramic view along the South West Coast Path to Combe Martin Bay

The pointed forewings identify the silver washed fritillary © National Trust/ Matthew Oates

The pointed forewings identify the silver washed fritillary

Beautiful bluebells in the Spring sunshine © Rika Gordon

Beautiful bluebells in the Spring sunshine

Route overview

This short but challenging walk takes you along some of the highest and most spectacular sea cliffs in England and is a must-do for butterfly lovers and photographers.

The path climbs steeply upwards across scree slopes to Peter's Rock where there are far-reaching views across to Wales. Further along there are spectacular views along the coast to Great and Little Hangman and Lundy Island.

Parts of this walk offer habitat to the rare High Brown fritillary butterfly, as well as to more common Dark Green and Silver-washed fritillaries. There are wild flowers in abundance in spring and in August the cliffs are blanketed in purple heather.

Route details

See this step-by-step route marked on a map

Annotated OS map for the new Heddon Valley Butterfly walk
  • Directions
  • Route
  • Bus stop
  • Parking
  • Toilet
  • Viewpoint

Start: Gift shop, grid ref: SS655480

  1. With the National Trust shop on your right, walk down the road towards the Hunter's Inn. Keeping the Inn to your right, follow the road over the River Heddon and carry on as it curves up to the left and then to the right over the stone bridge. Please be aware of the traffic on this section. Just after the bridge look to your right - Harry's Orchard was planted in memory of Harry Westcott, a former National Trust employee.

  2. 33yd (30m) past the stone bridge turn right and go through the gate along the footpath signed Heddon's Mouth. Walk down the graded track until you reach a steep path up to the left. There is a bench at the junction and a fingerpost showing the South West Coast Path acorn symbol.

  3. Turn left here and follow the path as it climbs steeply up the valley side.Go through the gate and stay on the path. As you do so look to your right at the wonderful beech trees that have grown up out of the traditional dry stone wall. In late spring the slope to your left is carpeted in bluebells. You can also see stitchworts, wild violets and red campions. Keep eye out for deer - you might be lucky enough to see some. Follow the path as it levels out as you walk towards the sea, across the scree slope to Peter's Rock. During the last Ice Age the summer thawing of the top layer of permafrost resulted in a slow flow of loose rock and soil downslope, clearly visible as the large areas of scree you can see today. Don't forget to stop a while and look at the amazing views across the Heddon Valley to the 19th-century carriageway that leads to Woody Bay.

  4. From Peter's Rock follow the coast path round to the left with the cliffs falling away to the sea to your right - you are now walking along some of the highest sea cliffs in England. In August the cliffs along this stretch of the path are covered with purple heather - a photographer's delight. Go round the headland where you will see, stretching out in front of you, the wonderful coastal panarama of Holdstone Down, Great and Little Hangman, the bay of Combe Martin and on a very clear day Lundy Island.

    Show/HideMarine and bird life

    Watch out for seabirds such as razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes as well as different types of gulls. You can also see peregrines on occasion and on clear summer days when the sea is flat you may even see a school of porpoises passing by.

    Panoramic view along the South West Coast Path to Combe Martin Bay © Jacqueline Le Sueur
  5. Stay on the coast path round the edge of the cliff until you come to a 3-fingerpost signed 'South West Coast Path Combe Martin' to your right and left to Trentishoe Church. Turn left and follow the path up and over the field.

    Show/HideButterflies

    If you spot a fritillary here the chances are its the Dark Green variety as High Browns do not venture so high. Unlike the High Brown fritillary, the Dark Green fritillary is widespread in the UK. As its name suggests the butterfly has more of a green tinge to its undersides than the rare High Brown, and no silver-pupilled brown spots. Silver-washed fritillaries are most common here from mid July to late August. Note the pointed forewings which help distinguish them from other orange fritillaries in Heddon Valley. You may also see grayling, purple hairstreak and the odd wall brown butterflies on your walk through the valley.

    The pointed forewings identify the silver washed fritillary © National Trust/ Matthew Oates
  6. Follow the path keeping the dry stone wall to your right as it goes along the edge of the valley - Trentishoe Combe. At one point you will be able to look to your left down onto the path you climbed up to Peter's Rock. In the spring the slope that falls away down to your left is carpeted with bluebells - a wonderful sight on a clear sunny day as they are completely in the open. There are also spectacular views from here down into Heddon Valley to the National Trust shop where you started this walk. In the spring look for pink foxgloves growing out of the stone wall to your right. There is the wonderful honey-sweet smell of bluebells and the rich, toasted coconut aroma from bright yellow gorse flowers in the air in spring. There are also a lot of bugles along this path in late May.

  7. Follow the path as it makes its way downhill to a 2-finger signpost on a tarmac lane next to the National Trust sign for Trentishoe Combe. Look at the meadow to your right here in the spring as it is, for a short while, completely filled with daisies. Turn left and follow the lane down through the woods.

    Show/HideHigh brown fritillary

    Heddon Valley holds one of the best UK populations of the spectacular High Brown fritillary that files from mid June to mid-late July. Look for it on violets growing under the bracken. Many of the narrow paths through bracken have been created especially for this butterfly to encourage the egg-laying females which require some open areas. The High Brown fritillary has disappeared from 80 per cent of its range since the 1970s. Look for the row of dark brown pearls towards the edge of its hind wing undersides which distinguish it from the Dark Green fritillary.

    Beautiful bluebells in the Spring sunshine © Rika Gordon
  8. When you reach the T-junction turn left signed Hunter's Inn 1/4 mile. Follow this road back to your starting point at the National Trust gift shop and ice cream parlour. We hope that you enjoyed this walk. We look after some of the most spectacular areas of countryside for the enjoyment of all. We need your support to help us continue our work and provide access to our beautiful landscapes. To find out more about how you can help our work as a volunteer, member or donor please go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/northdevon

End: Gift shop, grid ref: SS655480

  • Trail: Walking
  • Grade: Hard
  • Distance: 3.5 miles (5.5 kms)
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • OS Map: OS Explorer OL9
  • Terrain:

    This is a challenging route that gains a height of 550 feet from its start point at sea level. There are some steps, it is very steep in parts and at one point crosses a scree slope - the path here is clearly defined but is not suitable for young children or those worried about heights. Please keep dogs on leads and be careful in windy conditions.

  • How to get here:

    By foot: access via the South West Coast Path

    By bike: National Cycle Network Regional Route 51 passes near the property. See sustrans

    By bus: None available near the property

    By train: Barnstaple, 16.5 miles from Heddon Valley

    By car: Halfway along the A39 between Combe Martin and Lynmouth, turn off for Hunter's Inn. Postcode for Sat Nav: EX31 4PY

     

     

     

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